Skip to main content

New Alabama law unsettling for some undocumented immigrants

By Gustavo Valdes, CNN
updated 8:14 PM EDT, Mon October 3, 2011
Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley signed the state's anti-illegal immigration bill into law in June.
Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley signed the state's anti-illegal immigration bill into law in June.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • HB56 could let police ask about legal status of people investigated for crime, detain them
  • Perla Perez: "I'm not afraid for myself. ... But then what would happen to my children?"
  • Montgomery department wants Hispanic children in system to continue going to school
  • Owner of a food store who came to the U.S. illegally worries that he can't stay open

(CNN) -- The ink had barely dried on the order signed by Judge Sharon Lovelace Blackburn, allowing most of Alabama's anti-illegal immigration law to go into effect, when fear settled into some in the state's Hispanic community.

"We are in panic mode," said Maria Morales, an illegal immigrant living in Montgomery.

The law known as HB56 is the strictest in the country, allowing police officers to ask about the legal status of people investigated for a crime, if reasonable suspicion exists, and detain them for immigration authorities.

"We cannot even go out and buy food," said Perla Perez, who has lived in Alabama for the past five years without legal status.

The law also requires public schools to ask about the legal status of children born in foreign countries and that of their parents.

"I'm not afraid for myself," said Perez, who has two U.S.-born children. "If they want to deport me, that is fine. But then what would happen to my children? Who will take care of them?"

The state said 1,171 Hispanic students were absent Wednesday, before official word of the immigration law. On Friday, after word of the new law, there were 1,988 absences in Alabama, an increase of 817 students, the state said.

Tom Salter, spokesman for the Montgomery School District, said 200 children skipped school Thursday, the day the law went into effect. He said that number dropped to 100 Friday.

Salter said their English-as-a-second-language department has reached out to about 400 of the estimated 1,200 Hispanic children enrolled in the system to encourage them to continue going to school.

Larry Craven, the interim superintendent of the Alabama Department of Education, said in a news conference Friday that schools will comply with the law, checking the status of new students, but that nobody will be denied an education.

Morales said that like herself, her children are undocumented, and she is afraid of the consequences of sending them to school.

"They are going to investigate us through our children," she said.

Late Friday, the U.S. Department of Justice and the other plaintiffs filed a motion to enjoin the law until the 11th District Court in Atlanta has a chance to review the appeal. Judge Lovelace Blackburn has set a Tuesday evening deadline for all the parties to file the necessary arguments before proceeding.

State Sen. Scott Beason said the ruling is a victory for the state of Alabama because it allowed most of the law to go into effect.

"We expect people to be here in the state of Alabama legally. We have open arms, we have all the hospitality we can muster for the people who come to the state of Alabama legally. But if you are here illegally, it's going to be a challenge," he said.

Some immigrants are also planning for the worst. The owner of a Mexican food store, who asked not to be identified because he came to the United States illegally, was worried that he could not stay open. His business license expired last Friday, and he worries that he won't be able to renew it because now, he would be required to show a state-issued ID, which he doesn't have.

He said he has asked a friend to file the proper paperwork so she can take care of their children in case he or his wife is deported.

But even if he stays in business, he's facing tougher times. He says sales dropped by half after HB56 was first introduced and dropped even more when it was signed.

"Sometimes, we don't have enough money to pay our bills, so my wife has to take a job cleaning houses so we can make ends meet," he said.

Late Thursday, a rumor began circulating among neighbors in a trailer park where many Hispanics live. In a few minutes, streets emptied and people called friends and family to warn them of a potential threat that never came.

ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT